The Real Reason Farmworker And Restaurant Groups Are Already Praising Biden

Last year, 2020, was a terrifying year for undocumented restaurant and farmworkers in the United States. First, because of President Trump's hard-line policies, immigration jails locked up an average of 50,000 people per day, per The Washington Post. Second, because of COVID-19. As Eater reported, sweeping layouts in the restaurant industry heavily affected the undocumented, who make up as much as 40 percent of the restaurant workforces in big, urban areas. Many were left without any safety net whatsoever. When relief funds were available, undocumented workers were often frightened to apply, fearing their information might be passed to ICE. "We are pretty scared," a worker told Eater. "It's a constant feeling, but we have kids so we always try to take care of ourselves so we can provide a better life for them."

Undocumented farmworkers faced other obstacles. As per The New York Times, they became even more essential to our food production necessities during the pandemic than they had been before, which forced them to show up to work despite dangers, flying in the face of stay-at-home orders. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine recently pointed out that both COVID-19 infection rates and mortality rates are "undoubtedly much higher" among undocumented populations than they are among the general population.

But if 2020 was terrifying for undocumented restaurant and farmworkers, 2021 might offer redemption. President Joe Biden's administration has just announced an immigration reform act that gives them a glimmer of hope.

President Biden's U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 might be a game-changer for undocumented farm and restaurant workers

As explained by The Washington Post, Biden's U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 offers an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States as of January 1, 2021. After living for five years on a "temporary status," these immigrants would be eligible for a green card as long as they fulfilled certain requirements (think background checks and tax payments). Within another three years, they could apply for U.S. citizenship. 

 Successful Farming estimates that 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers could benefit from the act if passed. United Farm Workers union president Teresa Romero told the news source that the bill was "fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear." Romero further signaled that the act's passage would allow undocumented farm workers to "behave like free women and men." 

Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association has also thrown its weight behind the reform. A statement released by its executive vice president of public affairs, Sean Kennedy, in support of the measure highlighted the importance of undocumented immigrants to food-based businesses. "The restaurant industry today reflects the cultural traditions and hard work of immigrants who come to America seeking a better life," he said. "They add to the vast diversity that makes our smallest to largest restaurants cornerstones of their communities" (via Nation's Restaurant News).